The days passed slowly for Marius. Drab walls, a confined bed, and beeping monitors make for a miserable experience for an eleven-year-old. Family breakfasts at home were a happy memory but a distant one in a land of dull hospital cereal boxes. A classroom filled with friends gone, a few books on the nightstand in its place. Daily trips to the playground to joyfully run around replaced by trips to the scanning room to lie perfectly still for the next examination.
Day after day, round after round of procedures, Marius had few things that broke up the gloomy monotony of the life of a middle schooler fighting bone cancer. He should have been more worried about spelling tests than blood tests.
One of those was Magic, played with family or streamed constantly to his room. The other was his favorite player.
Martin Müller is competing in the biggest tournament he's ever seen. The 2016 Magic World Championship is a quest for redemption for eighteen-year-old Müller, who went 8-6 last year after his famous run to the 2014 World Magic Cup title courtesy of a miracle "Daneblast," but feels he performed poorly and gave away chances to do well a year ago on Magic's biggest stage.
He's right. With a $250,000 prize pool and a boatload of Pro Points on the line in Seattle, Washington, every game the prodigy battles in this weekend holds enormous meaning for his blossoming professional career. But—even if he were to make the finals—Müller doesn't consider any match here the most important of his life.
Martin Müller will play a lot important matches this weekend—but none can compare to one he shared in an empty game store back in May.
Müller waited nervously inside Faraos Cigarer, a small game store in Denmark's capital. His emotions were shifting by the minute ever since he had first received the call from the Make-A-Wish Foundation that would eventually lead to that coming moment. He was in shock when first contacted—after all, Make-A-Wish is an international charity that grants any one wish of very sick children. "Why would anyone use their wish to meet me?" he thought, but the following weeks began to demonstrate to Müller just how important Magic can be in someone's life.
It was very important for Marius, who passed those long, painful days in the hospital by watching Magic—by watching his favorite player and fellow countryman, Müller. Marius's parents noticed, and worked with Müller to plan this day: a chance for their brave son to meet his hero and for the two of them to spend a few hours playing Magic together.
"I couldn't believe he wanted to meet me—Make-A-Wish is for big stars and famous people," Müller marveled. "Right before they reached out to me, [Danish singer and internationally-known famous person] Lukas Graham had done Make-A-Wish and it was all over the news. How could I be on the same level as that to someone?"
To one sick little boy, he was. Now the day had come, and Müller didn't know what to expect. Would Marius be quiet? Anxious? Shy? Could he—practically a kid himself—ever really live up? Whatever his expectations, nothing could have prepared him for the child who came through the door in a Make-A-Wish t-shirt and a New York beanie.
"He walked in the door, and you could really see the 'wow' in his eyes," Müller recalled. "He wasn't shy; he was just so happy. It was an unreal experience."
Marius and Müller spent the afternoon together. The Magic pro gave Marius a special playmat from that famous 2014 World Magic Cup. He gave Marius some Magic promo cards. But—above all else— Müller gave Marius his time. They spent the day playing Magic together. They talked about Marius's life and his dreams for the future. A child used to spending his days in a dreary hospital room got to enjoy an afternoon hanging out with a new friend.
It was an experience neither will ever forget, and one that Müller will always cherish.
"I've lived in my own world, and never even considered Magic being more than just a game I play. I never really thought about it being bigger than that," Müller said. "But when I saw that there was someone I could really help through Magic, it changed everything for me."
Müller has four days to complete his goal of redemption here in the Magic World Championship.
This time, he's playing for more than just himself.